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What should you look for when selecting an MBA programme?

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By Dr Hennie Scheepers - Milpark Business school

The decision to enroll for an MBA is usually the result of an intricate process where various factors were considered. In general, MBA studies are seen as costly, both on a personal and financial level, making it necessary to research properly all available options.

When considering the overall MBA market, accreditation by the Council on Higher Education can no longer be seen as a differentiating factor. This implies that all institutions currently offering an MBA qualification has gone through a rigorous accreditation process where input from the peer group would also have been considered.

As already mentioned, MBA degrees are regarded as expensive qualifications. Therefore, it is of great importance to reflect on the financial costs of an MBA. In the event where students are not company-sponsored, other alternatives would need to be investigated.

The availability of flexible payment options then needs to be considered. Quite often students enroll for an MBA with the final intention of securing alternative employment. This group of people quite obviously does not disclose their student status to their employees, implying that they would need to consider carefully the financial impact of their registration towards an MBA.

Prospective students would also be well advised to find out as much as possible about the direct and indirect costs of an MBA. Some institutions may include textbooks in the registration fee; others may not, which could contribute further to the overall costs.

As alluded to earlier, MBA studies also have a high personal cost. It takes up all free time and severely limits social and family interaction. If one looks at an "average' MBA, it could require between three to five hours of study per day - this on top of an already full workload!

If one looks at the profile of MBA students, you will find classes to be dominated by people from middle to senior levels of management - these people already carry the burden of work-related responsibility. Thus, one should also be satisfied that you have the required life skills set before considering enrolling for an MBA.

The accessibility and geographic proximity of institutions is also a considerable factor. If you are not planning to complete an MBA through the distance-learning mode, relatively close proximity and easy access should definitely also be considered before choosing a certain institution.

Apart from the obvious cost-saving issue, it will also be an advantage if you do not have to brave hours of traffic before getting to class! If one is able to get to class in a calm state, there is a chance that your learning may be optimized!

Another very important issue to consider is the entrance requirements formulated by the various providers of MBA degrees. Although there is talk that an honours degree will be a prerequisite in future, this is currently not the case and a suitable Bachelor?s degree should still be sufficient.

As you can imagine, institutions accept students onto their MBA programmes through many differing approaches. While some may opt for the writing of the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), others may admit students based on interviews, biographic essays, panel interviews, references, and experience, or any combination of the above.

Be sure that you know what these admission processes entail before submitting your application or any administration fees - this could result in your saving money and time!

If one does not directly meet the formal requirements of an institution, you may possibly still be accepted through a process of "RPL' - recognition of prior learning. This process is governed by a legal framework and one would be required to be of a certain age, have a specific number of years of managerial experience, and provide a portfolio of evidence in support of your application.

It is important to be forewarned that compiling a portfolio of evidence is labour-intensive and time consuming, but may result in your being accepted onto the programme without the formal qualifications mentioned earlier.

Further to this, keep the commencement dates of different MBA programmes in mind. Although some may only start in March, others may get going in February. Getting ready to submit an application may take some time; therefore, be prepared by firstly knowing programme commencement dates.

On average, one should be able to complete your MBA within two to three years. Since it is a masters? degree, one will be completing, a research dissertation will need to be written towards the end of the programme.

As soon as one is accepted onto an MBA programme and lectures start, your whole life seems to change. It is therefore imperative to choose an institution, which shows sensitivity for the needs and requirements of its (working) students.

If an institution is able to offer a service to its students whereby their life and study skills, career planning and developmental needs are addressed and enhanced, this should further assist the student in making the transition successfully. It is no secret that an MBA is a very challenging degree to complete, for which reason one would need to choose an institution which has suitably qualified professional staff on board, who can assist in unlocking one?s full potential under these trying conditions.

In addition to all of the above, one would also need to pay serious attention to the various curricula on offer. Every business school will place its own emphasis on certain areas of business, and this will be seen in the structure of the various MBA programmes in the market.

Make sure to find out who the faculty of the various schools is, what their credentials are, as well as their experience. Those institutions that have faculty with real-life experience, linked to academic prowess, are often preferred by students who have to apply their new knowledge and skills in the "real world'!

Finally, it will pay if one is able to determine the value system, mission and vision, which drives the business schools on your shortlist. Although all business programmes are supposed to enrich students in their knowledge and skill, this is achieved in many different ways.

It is now also widely accepted that individuals - and business schools - who are able to solve problems and meet challenges in an innovative and creative manner, will be the leaders of tomorrow.

Thus, when choosing a business school, be sure that they are able to instill creative principles and innovative thinking, as this could be the difference between running in the pack and being the leader!

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